This morning Bret Stephens dusted off D’Souza’s thesis on jihadism:
Bear in mind, too, that the America Qutb found so offensive had yet to discover Elvis, Playboy, the pill, women’s lib, acid tabs, gay rights, Studio 54, Jersey Shore and, of course, Lady Gaga. In other words, even in some dystopic hypothetical world in which hyper-conservatives were to seize power in the U.S. and turn the cultural clock back to 1948, America would still remain a swamp of degeneracy in the eyes of Qutb’s latter-day disciples.
This, then, is the core complaint that the Islamists from Waziristan to Tehran to Gaza have lodged against the West. It explains why jihadists remain aggrieved even after the U.S. addressed their previous casus belli by removing troops from Saudi Arabia, and why they will continue to remain aggrieved long after we’ve decamped from Iraq, Afghanistan and even the Persian Gulf. As for Israel, its offenses are literally inextricable: as a democracy, as a Jewish homeland, as a country in which liberalism in all its forms, including cultural, prevails.
That must be why America was beset by jihadist attacks since at least 1948. Oh, wait, this never happened? How strange. That might mean that the decadence-as-cause-of-terrorism argument grossly exaggerates the importance of such cultural factors in explaining jihadist violence as a way of distracting us from remediable political grievances. In fact, attacks on Americans and American installations began after we inserted ourselves into the region’s conflicts and began establishing a military presence there. Hegemonists can obsess over the writings of Qutb all they want, but it will not change the reality that anti-American jihadist violence did not occur until the misguided 1982-83 intervention in Lebanon. U.S. and Israeli military operations and policies of occupation provoke much broader, more intense resentment among Muslims than any general dissatisfaction with the decadence of Western culture and its deleterious effects
on their own societies. The suicide bomber in Khost was radicalized by the treatment of Gaza, not the performances of Lady Gaga. It might suit a certain type of Westerner to associate fanaticism, political violence and strict moralism, but on the whole this is a misunderstanding and a distraction from the real causes of the problem.
The recent Moscow subway bombings are instructive on this point. The bombings are outrageous atrocities for which there is no excuse or justification, but one would have to be a blind fool to say that Chechen grievances, which outside jihadists have been exploiting for the last decade, are based in morally offensive Russian pop culture. It is acceptable for hegemonists to acknowledge this when Russia is the target of terrorist attacks, but when it comes to acknowledging U.S. and allied policies as important contributing factors we are treated instead to these sweeping cultural arguments and close readings of Sayyid Qutb.
Regarding Israel, there are certainly absolute rejectionists who will never accept Israel’s existence. What is inexplicable is why Israeli and U.S. governments would want to empower those rejectionists by making accommodation and some practical modus vivendi increasingly difficult if not impossible. Settlement-building in itself is not the greatest cause of resentment, but it is the occupation and all its attendant inequalities and humiliations that the construction represents and reinforces that makes it so provocative.
No doubt there are some die-hard jihadist ideologues who would never give up their fight no matter what happened. There is no political decision that can satisfy true fanatics, because they apparently seek goals so far removed from reality that they will never be satisfied, but the majority of Muslims that sympathizes with the political goals of violent jihadists has grievances or sympathizes with those who have grievances that can be addressed and remedied to some extent. Naturally, proponents of perpetual war have no interest in even attempting to address such grievances, and so we hear how they hate us for our immorality. Common sense tells us that other people are far more likely to resent and hate us for what we and our allies do to them and their co-religionists than they are going to hate us because of our debased popular culture.